A few minutes of madness was all it took for
The madness came mostly from Spanish referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco, who’s strict – some would say peculiar – definition of what constitutes a foul punished Klose’s industrious efforts with the maximum penalty. And, speaking of penalties, Lukas Podolski merely added to the misery around Die Mannschaft with his feeble effort from the spot in the second-half. After it seemed Germany could do no wrong against Australia last Sunday, on Friday they could do little right. The attacking verve was gone even before Klose was dismissed – at least compared to the magnificent Australia game – and a great deal of that was down to the improved opposition. Serbia provided real threat with their attacks, held onto the ball well and had a sturdy defence, with even goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic showing a capability rarely seen in his time with Wigan Athletic. Which performance was the aberration – the sublime outing against Australia, the quieter show against Serbia – will be answered against Ghana on Wednesday, but, unless Germany’s early promise is to fizzle out to mediocrity, Joachim Low’s side need to find more of the former than the latter.
This writer warned that complacency was Germany’s greatest threat for the remainder of the group stage, and that a tougher test could be the making of Low’s side, but that was somewhat dependent on them grinding out a hard-fought win, not succumbing to a luckless defeat. A close tie that still delivered three points would have quashed the expectation surrounding Germany after that Australia game, bringing the attention around the team to more acceptable levels. A loss has done the same but leaves qualification in doubt, and now Low’s side are facing a whole new kind of pressure – that of highly-rated favourites on the verge of bowing out. Three points for Ghana over Australia this afternoon leaves Germany in a must win situation when they meet the Africans on the June 23. They cannot rely on Australia taking points from Serbia when they meet in the final swing of group games while a Ghana team already carrying six points into the next round could – in theory – have their minds elsewhere. The doubts that are now surrounding Germany can be erased easily enough with victory over Ghana and replaced by more realistic hopes, or it could get worse still with an early exit.
There is no room for error now for Germany. It is tempting to say the unfair sending off of Klose is what has left the three-times World Cup winners in this dangerous situation, but they had the chance to salvage a point from 12 yards and Podolski blew it. Podolski – who scored in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final penalty shootout against Argentina – will retain his left wing berth against Ghana with Cacau or Mario Gomez replacing the suspended Klose, since Low does not need to tear up the playbook and start again. Ahead of the Australia game, little was expected of Germany outside of the most optimistic fans that every nation has. After defeat to Serbia, they will effectively be in the same position, which could lead to the return of the free-flowing passing game that put the Socceroos to the sword, providing the key players’ confidence has not been dented too much and Klose’s absence can be accounted for. Low is facing the toughest challenge of his time as Germany Coach since the 2008 European Championship final. That game ended in disappointment but Low can draw on past success in World Cup tournaments and every bit of reserve will be needed to see Germany through to the next stage.
A siege mentality enveloped the Germany team as the Serbia game wore on and, as Sir Alex Ferguson has continually proven, that can be a potent weapon. But this was not Germany against the World, rather Germany hamstrung by a below-par performance and poor refereeing. The level of performance is in their own hands, the standard of refereeing is not, but a win over Ghana renders those variables null and void.